First, let’s define it: A portal fantasy is a story about a character who gets transported (perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not) into a fantastic or alternate world. They pass through a portal of some kind (a wardrobe? a tunnel? an interdimensional hole?) and find themselves in a reality that’s different from the world they left behind.
“As anyone who reads science fiction and fantasy can tell you, life is full of doors … appearing unexpectedly, leading to unexpected places. Other worlds, other times. Narnia. An alien planet. The Bronze Age.” James Davis Nicoll
During December, you’re invited to explore a couple of dozen portals and doorways, via “Passing Through Portals,” a month-long promotion sponsored by StoryOrigin and 20 or so participating authors, myself among them.
Four weeks have flown by in a swirl of promotional activities. Now it’s time to take stock and decide what’s working, and what needs adjusting.
Discounting. Making Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock free in all ebook formats has definitely raised the book’s profile. At one point, it ranked about #1,200 in the Kindle store, and around #46 in Fantasy Adventure Fiction. Alas, I did not screen-shoot those lofty numbers, so now I can’t prove what I saw. As of today, however, the book is still ranking respectably at Amazon (as pictured). Its sales rank at Barnes & Noble also improved quite a bit. There’s no doubt: making it free has made Book 1 more visible.
Reviews. Free ebooks have NOT yielded new reviews, however. I’m kinda gobsmacked over the difficulty of getting readers to post reviews. Even giving away paperback copies to potential reviewers has garnered only one new review in a whole month. It’s a reality check, for sure, regarding the vast numbers of books that are available to readers, and the vast numbers of authors who are clamoring for the attention of those readers.
Exploring additional avenues to get reviews, I’ve signed up at StoryOrigin. There, I posted a sample as a Reader Magnet, and my offer of a free review copy has been accepted by two readers so far. Also, I’ll be participating in a group promo for Portal Fantasy books, Dec. 1–31.
Just today, I entered Waterspell Book 1 in a monthly book giveaway sponsored by Reader Views. Am waiting to hear when the giveaway will be scheduled. It’ll be in time, I hope, to help with next year’s planned Book 4 publicity.
Bookstagram. This platform has been encouraging. I’m connecting with other authors, and with reviewers and book bloggers. Two readers have accepted my offer of a free review copy in exchange for honest reviews. Those reviews have not yet been posted, leaving me to wonder whether they will be. Fingers crossed.
BookBub ads. Mixed results here. I’ve tested various graphics. All of these (below) have attracted some clicks, but none has performed spectacularly. For my next month of advertising, I’m switching to Freebooksy.
Blog Tours. Going on blog tours was the best way I got reviews when the Waterspell trilogy was first published. I’m thinking it may be time to investigate what’s available these days. On Bookstagram, I follow TBR and Beyond Tours. Not sure they’re a perfect fit, but I’ll look into them further. I’ve bookmarked several other possibilities at The Book Designer.
Those of you who occasionally read my blog posts (thank you! I love you!) have probably figured out, by now, that I use this space for thinking out loud. It’s my planning area. Without my posts on “discoverability,” I’d never be able to keep track of plans made, plans executed, or plans adjusted. All of this marketing work is squeezed into the hours when I’m not actively writing—or formatting.
On top of everything else, I’m repaginating the paperback editions to skinny-up the print books a tad (in light of current printing and shipping costs) and to update the copyright and About the Author pages. Scattered about my house are PDFs of Books 1, 2, and 4, with Book 3 yet to be repaginated. The Book 4 manuscript is out with my final beta reader, I’m busily promoting Book 1, and I’m trying to be a regular Bookstagrammer, while not wholly neglecting Goodreads and Facebook. The days are just packed! And now I’ve added StoryOrigin to my online efforts. I can’t keep this up forever. About a month after Book 4 is published, I’m going to collapse and sleep for three days.
Release date for Waterspell Book 4 is March 18, 2022. Which means I’m now officially in the six-month pre-release window. I’ve got a plan and I’m working it.
Today I made Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock free at every bookseller that will let me: B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords. Amazon is resisting going lower than 99 cents, and I can’t figure out how to “tell them about a lower price.” I thought there would be a button or something to click on the book’s Amazon page, but I’m not seeing it. Maybe Amazon’s zealousness about not being undersold will soon work to drop the Kindle price to free. Google Books also seems slow to respond to my price drop; I’ll keep checking back until the Google page shows it for free.*
*9/21/21 Update: Amazon and Google have caught up. The Book 1 ebook is now free in ALL ebook formats. Price-matching triumphs again. 😀
Most of the rest of today, I’ve spent making Instagram posts to get the word out about a free ebook. I’m not quite ready to post either of these yet, preferring to feature a few more Reader Reviews first, but these graphics are ready to go when the time seems right:
I’ve also reached out to some book reviewers with whom I’ve connected on Instagram. I have review copies (print and ebook) ready to send out in exchange for honest reviews. (Fantasy fans, you need merely ask, and you shall receive.)
The Book 4 manuscript has gone out to a trusted beta reader who is herself an author. I know that I (and the book) will greatly benefit from her feedback. She’s showing me the great kindness of reading the entire original trilogy to refresh her memory of the backstory before diving into Book 4.
Now it’s quitting time for today, and my neck is stiff from too many hours at the computer. I’ll need to learn to pace myself as the clock counts down to December 18, 2021, the first day of pre-orders, and then to March 18, 2022, the Book 4 release day. I’m trying to figure out when and how to do a Cover Reveal in there somewhere.
Which reminds me: I must also see to a new paperback cover for Book 4. To do that, I’ll need to determine how many pages the book will occupy in print. No point doing that, though, until I hear from my beta reader. Almost certainly her comments will lead to a final round of edits.
It’s going to be a busy Fall and Spring. I’m ready. I have a plan and I’m working it.
Sitting on a bookshelf over my computer desk, for several years, has been a spiral notebook that I filled with quotes and notes from the books I was reading while writing the first three books of Waterspell. I bought the notebook in Mexico, where my late husband and I were living at the time, and where the original Waterspell trilogy was largely written. Our house on Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara, made for the perfect writer’s den. I was insulated from my formerly too-busy life north of the border, and could devote myself full-time to the creative act of writing fiction, and to reading widely in support of my work.
Once the original trilogy got published, I seldom or never looked at the notebook that I’d filled with pertinent or inspiring notes and quotes. After getting on Instagram, however, I pulled the notebook off the shelf and, paging through it, discovered that I had created a wonderfully diverse archive of readily Instagram-able thoughts and sayings.
They have inspired me to feverish sessions at Canva, where I’ve upgraded to a Pro account to have access to ALL of the pretty pictures. I’m having a great time creating square-shaped graphics that feature quotes gleaned from my jam-packed notebook. On Instagram I’m alternating such quotes with excerpts from readers’ reviews of Waterspell, and the strategy seems to be working. I’m connecting with readers, reviewers, bloggers, and other authors much faster and more easily than I’ve ever managed to do on my largely useless Facebook author page.
Here’s a sample of the Author Quotes that I’ve taken from my old Mexican notebook and transformed on the Canva interface into post-worthy graphics:
And here are some of the graphics I’ve made to feature excerpts from readers’ reviews:
I am deeply grateful to the readers and bloggers who gave Waterspell such wonderful reviews upon the books’ original publication. I’m grateful to Canva for making it so easy and such fun to feature these review snippets as attractive graphics. I’m grateful to Bookstagram for giving me a place to post my Canva creations. Canva and I, and my books and Instagram, are jelling together quite well these days. Giving me hope that I may yet break through the static and bring my work to the attention of new readers, upon the publication of Waterspell Book 4, and to new listeners as well, when the long-in-progress audiobooks are finally released.
When books meet tech the right way, the results can be beautiful.
Being more oriented to words than to pictures, I had no interest in Instagram until I learned about its subgenre, Bookstagram. (Book Instagram = #bookstagram ) Now I’ve taken the plunge. Early activity is promising: In just my first two days I connected with several book reviewers and bloggers. When I get at least 20 potential reviewers, I’ll offer them complimentary copies of Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock. I’m told that Amazon treats writers better when their books have at least 50 reviews. As a series, Waterspell has more than that, but Book 1 by itself has only 35. My goal is to get that number to at least 50 before I start serious promotion of the forthcoming audiobooks and Book 4.
If you enjoy reviewing fantasy books, please drop me a note at waterspell(at)earthlink(dot)net. I have review copies of The Warlock available in all formats, print as well as ebooks, but I can mail the paperbacks within the US and Canada only.
Full disclosure up front: Book 1: The Warlock ends on a cliffhanger. And as reviewer Twiggy Piggy says: “The moment you finish this book, you WILL want to go on to the next.” (Perhaps I could supply you with that next book, too. Let’s talk.)
My next steps include looking into the usefulness of these things:
• The Fussy Librarian
• Blog tours
• Goodreads Giveaways
• Amazon advertising
• Written Word Media
I know who I’ll ask for new reviews to augment the glowing reviews that Waterspell received upon the books’ initial publication. The circle I move in, these days, is much changed from the social circle that I knew before my husband’s death in 2012. Now, I number among my friends many anti-fascist activists, folks I got to know after November 2016. Most of them didn’t even know I was a many-times published author; it wasn’t what drew us together. Now, gradually, I’m revealing my past life and enlisting the support of those who are willing to help me recover something of it.
Am I dreaming, thinking I can relaunch a 10-year-old fantasy series? Possibly. But I’m making final edits to Waterspell Book 4, preparing for a 2022 release. And the audiobooks are slowly coming together, after my wonderfully talented narrator endured a major upheaval in his own world. It took him away from the work for six months—disruptive, yes, but not as damaging to a career as was my own dark, nine-year period of grief and neglect. If nothing else goes too badly wrong, the audiobooks should be released in 2022, along with Book 4.
I’m thinking those two events could be and should be enough to spark new interest in the original trilogy. If I will get out there and promote, dammit. It’s no secret that promotion takes money, and I’m prepared to pay, within reason, for advertising. Here’s what I plan for my first sponsored Facebook post:
“Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Charlotte Brontë.” From award-winning author Deborah J. Lightfoot, an unforgettable epic fantasy that readers call “extraordinary, enthralling, completely unpredictable.” Think “Jane Eyre meets a sorcerer.” Coming in 2022, Book 4 of Waterspell will complete the series. Print & ebooks available. Audiobooks in progress. www.waterspell.net
Amazon advertising and BookBub being completely new to me, I’ll need to discover how they may or may not fit into the budget. But at least I’ve got a little ready cash to spend on a new promotional push. The 2020 Pandemic Year not only gave me time and opportunity to pursue audiobooks and to write Book 4, it saved me money. I went nowhere and cooked meals at home. Everything I didn’t spend on travel and restaurants is now earmarked for book promotion.
I hope to Drisha this plan of mine will get these four books in front of the readers who will most enjoy them. At this point, it’s readership I want—not fortune so much, just a tiny bit of fame to validate the years I’ve spent obsessing over this story of mine.
Evidently the rest of the writing world learned about Canva.com long ago. I’ve only recently discovered its multitude of free and easily customized templates for Facebook posts, Instagram, postcards, and all sorts of things.
Now that I know, I’m hooked. I started out playing with their ready-made templates, and created graphics that I may or may not ever actually post on my Facebook page:
Further experimentation produced results more in keeping with my tastes and better suited to the books:
Canva’s templates gave me ideas. This one suggested a way of showcasing several reviews at once:
Finding my rhythm, I knocked out several images that I’ve stockpiled for a social-media blitz when the time comes to actively promote Waterspell Book 4 (it’s nearly finished!) and the audiobooks (after an unavoidable delay, we’re now aiming for a Spring 2022 release at Audible).
I’m thinking I can never have too many of these things pre-made and ready to post. So it’s back to Canva.com that I go. Many thanks to that wonderfully generous Aussie tech company for making so many of its templates totally free. ♥
For good or ill, I mostly ignore Goodreads. The interface is maddeningly clunky. It resists all efforts to correct or update book details. The simple act of uploading a new cover creates multitudes of “new editions” which are no such thing. Edits are not saved immediately, making the person behind the editing wonder whether they stuck at all.
I write this while waiting the minimum 15 minutes to see whether the new Waterspell paperback covers got uploaded correctly (inevitably showing as “new editions,” creating a vastness of editions at Goodreads when there are, in fact, only the three editions in the real world: Paperback, Kindle, and other ebook).
The multiplied editions don’t annoy me nearly as much, however, as Goodreads’ insistence on changing the books’ titles. They are properly titled Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock, Waterspell Book 2: The Wysard, and Waterspell Book 3: The Wisewoman. In Goodreads’ infinite wisdom, however, the books are shown with their subtitles first, and the actual title—Waterspell—in parentheses. I frown at them taking such liberties with my books, but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it.
My antipathy toward the Goodreads interface keeps me from participating widely on that platform, which undoubtedly redounds to my disadvantage. I know it’s popular with avid readers, and I should reach out to connect with fantasy fans who spend time there. But egads, Goodreads! Why in this age of technological marvels does your interface feel 20 years old? Has it grown too huge and bloated to revamp? Are we stuck forever with this wallowing mess of a website?
I think it’s been 15 minutes. Now I shall log in again and see if any of my edits stuck, or if I must try, try, try again. <sigh>
Making a place for yourself in a world where you don't belong takes courage. So does moving in with a warlock.
"If you like epic fantasy that sweeps you to amazing, immersive worlds and while following intriguing characters, be sure to add this series to your to-read list." —Once Upon a YA Book
Castles in the cornfield provided the setting for Deborah J. Lightfoot's earliest flights of fancy. On her father's farm in Texas, she grew up reading tales of adventure and reenacting them behind ramparts of sun-drenched grain. She left the farm to earn a degree in journalism and write award-winning books of history and biography. High on her Bucket List was the desire to try her hand at the genre she most admired. The result is Waterspell, a complex, intricately detailed fantasy that begins with The Warlockand The Wysard, and concludes (for the present) with The Wisewoman. But a legal pad filled with notes, formerly tucked away in a desk drawer, has grown into a nearly finished Book 4 that will, in Spring 2022, complete the saga, at long last. Deborah is a professional member of The Authors Guild. She lives in the country south of Fort Worth, Texas.
Magic, mystery, murder, and romance. Waterspell: An intricate save-the-world fantasy adventure with complex characters, cosmic calamities, and the gothic sensibilities of Jane Eyre.
Mix environmental fantasy with magic, mystery, and a little slow-burning romance, add dark dystopian undercurrents, and that’s the Waterspell trilogy—a cross-genre story with too many layers for a single label.